Quiet Resistance: The Value of Personal Defiance
What reason does one have to resist oppression? The reasons that most easily come to mind are those having to do with justice – reasons that arise from commitments to human equality and the common good. In this paper, I argue that there are also reasons of love – reasons that arise from personal attachments to specific people, projects, or activities. I defend a distinctive form of resistance that is characteristically undertaken for reasons of love, which I call Quiet Resistance. Contrary to theories that build reasons of justice into the definition of resistance, I argue that we have strong reason to consider Quiet Resistance a genuine form of resistance. Finally, I argue that the reasons in favor of engaging in Quiet Resistance help to explain its distinctive value. In short, when one engages in Quiet Resistance, one’s actions are valuable in large part because they allow one to maintain respect for one’s personal values and meaning in life under oppressive conditions.
Eight Dimensions of Resistance
Resisting oppression evokes images of picket lines and crowds of protestors demanding large-scale reform. But not all resistance is political or publicly broadcast. Some acts of resistance are done solo, in private, aim to achieve personal goals, and may not even be recognizable as resistance by others. I present a taxonomy of resistance to oppression that distinguishes acts of resistance along four dimensions: their subject, target, scope, and tone. The taxonomy brings to light a range of forms of resistance that differ significantly from political activism and that theories of the morality of resistance should be able to evaluate.
Violent Resistance as Radical Choice
What, if anything, could count as a reason to engage in an act of violent resistance, such as participating in a political riot, beating up a misogynist, or destroying equipment in a sweatshop? Do such reasons have to be concerned with paradigmatic moral values, like justice, equality, and the common good? Or, might considerations of a more personal and partial nature provide reasons for violent resistance – ones which might affect our ethical evaluations of such actions? I argue that personal and partial values, such as love, loyalty, and personal empowerment, are often also at stake in violent resistance, and that some acts of violent resistance may be understood as situations of what Susan Wolf calls "Radical Choice", in which moral and personal demands come into conflict. Thus, even if violent resistance in any given case is immoral, this does not settle the question of its ethical value.
Oppositional Anger: Aptness without Appreciation
What makes anger an apt response to injustice? One possibility is that anger is only apt if it passes a Matching Constraint: one’s personal reason for getting angry must match the fact that justifies their anger. When the Matching Constraint is satisfied, anger can be an intrinsically worthwhile way of affectively appreciating injustice. I argue that the Matching Constraint produces incorrect results in a wide variety of ordinary cases. Often enough, one does not know why they are angry, or one is not angry for the reason that justifies their anger. For all that, it may still be appropriate for them to be angry. After presenting several cases of apt anger that fail the Matching Constraint, I suggest an alternative standard for aptness based on the general function of anger in our psychology. On my view, anger is apt when and because it alerts one, however coarsely or crudely, to threats against one’s values.